THURSDAY, 15th JUNE, 1876,
IN THE TEMPERANCE HALL, BIRMINGHAM.
MR. GEORGE H. ST. CLAIR IN THE CHAIR.
THE CHAIRMAN: Ladies and Gentlemen, we are met together to hear a very important question discussed by two gentlemen very competent to discuss it. The question is, "Are the Scriptures the authentic and reliable records of Divine revelation?" The discussion of this question was commenced two evenings ago at Leicester, but we shall scarcely be at any disadvantage on that account, inasmuch as separate points are to be taken up each evening. In the agreement made between the two gentlemen it is provided that Mr. Roberts shall lead off with a speech of half an hour’s length on the affirmative, that Mr. Bradlaugh shall follow with a speech of the same length on the negative side, then that Mr. Roberts shall have the liberty for a quarter of an hour either of making a speech or of questioning Mr. Bradlaugh: Mr. Bradlaugh to give categorical answers, not making a speech himself, and afterwards Mr. Bradlaugh shall have the same privilege of questioning Mr. Roberts for a quarter of an hour. Thus we shall occupy an hour and a half of our time. For the remaining hour it is arranged that the speakers shall speak alternately for a quarter of an hour at a time. That will bring us to ten o’clock, and at ten o’clock the meeting is to close. You will perceive that this arrangement leaves no room for any remarks to be made by the chairman, and it leaves no room for any interruptions on the part of the audience. It is, indeed, very properly provided that should either disputant be interrupted the time thus wasted–and it will be utterly wasted–shall not count against him; the only result therefore would be to keep the entire meeting to an unnecessarily late hour. Those, therefore, who disturb the public peace will be in a sense enemies of us all. However, I anticipate no interruption; I address you as ladies and gentlemen, and I anticipate nothing but polite conduct on the part of all. I now call upon Mr. Roberts to open the discussion on the affirmative side.
Mr. ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry that so far as this audience is concerned, we have to begin in the middle of the discussion. That is a form of things that I tried to avoid, but was not successful. By what may for the purpose of to-night be described as an awkward twist in the preliminary negotiations, I was compelled to consent to have two nights at Leicester out of six nights which I wanted at Birmingham. I do not now propose to occupy time in paying any further attention to that point, but I thought it necessary to allude to it as a necessary recognition of the awkwardness which I feel to some extent you are placed in and I also. In order, however, that there may be as a little disadvantage as possible resulting from that circumstance, I will indicate in a sentence or two, so far as that can be done, what has taken place at Leicester. On the first night I began the argument, at the date at which we were assembled, and contended that the circumstances existing in the world at the present time are such as ought to exist if the Bible be true, and that the evidence that ought to exist of the early existence of the Scriptures if the Bible is true, does exist; that there is ample evidence of the authenticity of these books which constitute the New Testament, upon which I contended the Old was also proved. Last night I argued that that great revolution in the history of mankind which occurred 1,800 years ago, by the general consent of all men, cannot be accounted for upon any rational principle apart from the account given in the New Testament, and that is that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead, and spent a certain length of time with his friends, and then left them with a promise to return, and afterwards endowed them with power to give evidence of the truth of their testimony in the working of miracles.
All that Mr. Bradlaugh has done hitherto has been, first, to neglect my general argument, which perhaps he did not quite comprehend, and secondly, to try to divert me from it by calling my attention to a number of discrepancies in detail, which certainly I admit at the right time ought to be capable of reconciliation with the general argument, but which it is out of my power, in the rehearsal of that general argument, to notice meanwhile. He demanded that I should first prove when and by whom the book of Genesis was written, when and by whom the book of Exodus was written, when and by whom all the other books were written; but I take a more sensible plan. When I wish to cross to the other side of a river, I begin by walking on this end of the bridge; and I began to step towards the other bank by lifting my feet in 1876, and marching downwards to the first century; and we have got there, and we are there to-night, and I have to-night to call your attention to what I shall contend to be the most unanswerable evidence of the resurrection of Christ that can be produced. I refer to the case of the apostle Paul.
The apostle Paul is a man whose individuality stands out more distinctly from the dark background of antiquity than almost any man of similarly remote times, with the single exception, perhaps, of Jesus his master. We not only have his biography written clearly, concisely, and distinctly, by a fellow-voyager of his, but we have a compilation of authentic letters of Paul, written under a variety of circumstances, and dealing with a variety of matters, in which even the minute shades of his character and tendencies are visible. Mr. Bradlaugh chose to deny the authenticity of them, he did no more. I asked Mr. B. to disprove them; he said that was not his business; and as a matter of fact, he has not done it. Therefore I am entitled, in to-night’s argument, to assume it as an undisputed thing that these letters of Paul are Paul’s letters, being prima facie evidence of themselves, until they are set aside, and I am certain Mr. Bradlaugh cannot set them aside, as will be manifest to you in the course of this evening’s discussion.
Upon that basis, then, I introduce to your notice Saul of Tarsus. In what character do we first find him? We find him an enemy of the Christians. In the 7th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we read that Stephen was slain for his testimony to the resurrection of Christ–stoned by the Jews and (58th verse), "the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet whose name was Saul". We next find him not only passively endorsing or sanctioning the destruction of the professed believers in the resurrection of Christ, but we find him taking very active and energetic steps to compass that end. In the 8th chapter and the 3rd verse, "Saul made havoc of the church, entering into every house and hailing men and women, committed them to prison." In Acts 9:1, "Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogue, that if he found any of this way"–that is, believers in Christ–"whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." That is the testimony of one who was afterwards a companion of Paul in his journeys. I will now produce Paul’s own confirmation of these statements: I will give you Paul’s own declarations as to his previous career. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, verse 13, he says: "Ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jew’s religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God, and wasted it, and profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." Again, in 1st Timothy 1:12: "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, who was before a blasphemer and a persecutor." In Acts 22:3-5, you have this account delivered by Paul in an address to a very large and turbulent, but for the moment quiet, assembly of Jews assembled around the foot of the castle stairs, whom he had permission to address at the moment of his apprehension by the Roman governor of Jerusalem:–"I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day; and I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women; as also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders, from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them who were there bound unto Jerusalem, to be punished."
Now, the man of whom these things are authentically declared, afterwards became one of the most energetic, indomitable, enterprising and successful apostles and a preacher and defender of the faith which he formerly destroyed. No sane man will deny that; and here is the question, How came about that great change? If Paul had been convinced by argument, I would not attach any great weight to the change, because the change in that case would merely indicate a change of his conviction, and would not be a guarantee of the correctness of his convictions. But was he changed by argument? Let us see. Surely such a man is able to give us a reasonable account of so great a change; and when he stood a prisoner before that extensive assembly of his fellow-countrymen at Jerusalem, his particular business was to explain to them how it was that he came to be changed; and I will read you his account.
Before I do so, let me remark that when you come to realise Paul’s character, you will find that he was not a man that could be changed by anything short of the evidence of his senses in the particular circumstances in which he was a persecutor. He must have been a witness of the miracles of Christ, as an inhabitant of Jerusalem and a disciple of Gamaliel, a leading Pharisee; but in common with the rest of the Jews, he would see, in the crucifixion of Christ, a complete evidence of Christ’s imposture, and a reason why he should refer the miracles of Christ to the supposed magical power to which they ignorantly referred them. This man, who resisted all the evidence displayed in the life of Christ while on earth, changed in the manner I have described, and the mere fact of this change is presumptive evidence that some powerful cause must have produced it. Paul himself explains the cause, and this is his account of it, in the 22nd chapter of Acts, verses 6-16: "And it came to pass", says he, "that as I made my journey (on the persecuting errand before referred to), and was come nigh unto Damascus, about noon, suddenly their shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? and the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus, and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him; and he said, the God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know His will, and SEE THAT JUST ONE, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth, for thou shalt be his witness"– his witness: it is not a matter of opinion; it is not a matter of "religion". Mr. Bradlaugh, last night, talked of the number of the Brahmins being an evidence of the truth of their religion. I don’t argue that way about this matter. I say this is no matter of religion, so-called; it was not a matter of theory which Paul was called upon to embrace. It was a matter of fact of which he was allowed to be a personal witness: the fact of the existence of Christ who had been crucified. It is, therefore, a question of evidence we have to consider; a matter of fact; a matter of logical induction from very definite premisses: "’Thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast SEEN AND HEARD. And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins".
Now, from the record of that transaction, it transpires that Paul saw Christ and not merely something from which he inferred his presence. Ananias expressly speaks of his "seeing that just one". The fact appears more clearly from one or two other points to which I will direct attention in the 26th chapter of Acts, verses 15 and 16. Paul upon this occasion gives another address upon the same subject, and like all truthful men who are detailing a truthful matter, although he substantially tells the same things, it is not told in the same words; though if this book were a concoction or an imposture, very great care would have been taken to make the story exactly the same whenever told. "I said, Who art thou, Lord? and he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; but rise, and stand upon thy feet, for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness to both of THESE THINGS WHICH THOU HAST SEEN, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." And afterwards Paul, alluding to it in the 15th chapter of the 1st Corinthians, verse 3-8, in combatting an objection which had arisen in the minds of certain living at Corinth on the subject of the resurrection of the dead, says, I first preached unto you "how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James, then of all the apostles; and last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time," that is to say his apostleship was late in its date, because strictly speaking they only could be apostles who answered to the description which you find in the 1st chapter of Acts, when they came to appoint a successor to Judas, where this is defined as the necessary qualification–(verse 21): "Of these men which have companied with us all the time that Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be WITNESS with us of his resurrection." As Paul was appointed after all these things, he declares of himself that he was as one born out of due time. But he had the essential qualification of having seen the Lord and thus enabled to give personal witness to the fact of his having risen. This is the strong point of his testimony: "he was seen of me also". Now, those of Mr. Bradlaugh’s way of thinking may be disposed to laugh at this, but, remember, that one man’s evidence as to what he has seen and heard is as good as another man’s evidence, and better when his evidence is supported in so many collateral and powerful ways, as it is in the case of Paul. Paul’s seeing Christ was not a matter of isolated curious experience. It was followed by a career of forty year’s length, during which Paul’s particular business was to declare these things and to apply them in a definite manner for the eternal benefit of those by whom they were received; for doing which work, recollect, he "suffered the loss of all things." This is a strong confirmation of his testimony of having seen Christ. His declaration in writing to the Philippians, to which I also now call your attention, is this–and judge ye whether this is the language of an impostor or an ignorant enthusiast, or a literary forger, which the author of Philippians must have been if Paul did not write it. Referring to his previous career, in Philippians 3:4-8, he says: "Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more; circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, THAT I MAY WIN CHRIST."
Let me also read you his description of the general position of the apostles in the world at that time; and judge ye whether it was such a position as men of sinister aims could possibly be brought to take up. In 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, he says, "I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye (Corinthians) are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working with our own hands; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it, being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. "Now a man who was educated at Jerusalem, of a high parentage, and with splendid opening prospects before him, who should suddenly rush into a career leading to such results, must be held to have had some rational reason for doing it. Paul’s reason is rational. There is no other reason admissable in his case. Let me ask Mr. Bradlaugh to tell us what he thinks was Paul’s reason, and I will then examine it. Mr. Bradlaugh cannot give a rational account of Paul’s case. He can only say he has no evidence there ever was such a man, which is simply shutting the eyes to the clear beams of truth.
But the case for Paul does not rest entirely upon the facts I have rehearsed. There are other strong confirmatory elements when we come to look into it. Paul not only went before Jews and Gentiles and presented his personal testimony to the resurrection of Christ, but certain things transpired in connection with the presentation of that testimony which we shall now have to consider. We are told that "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul"–(Acts 19:11). I submit the evidence of it; 1 Corinthians 14:18-19: "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all," says he, in writing to the Corinthians. He says this in the course of an argument tending to depreciate the importance of speaking with tongues. Let me read it to you, as it is an illustration of the great good sense that characterised this man: "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men". What does he refer to when he refers to that "speaking with tongues"? You will find an answer in the second chapter of Acts, which I intended to call attention to last night; but which I was prevented from doing for want of time, but which will come in appropriately at this point of the argument. You will see by reference to that chapter that the apostolic "speaking with tongues" was not the sort of gibberish which passes current in certain holes and corners in our day for "tongues". Hear the definition of them (Acts 2: 1): "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place, and suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance … Now when this was noised abroad the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man",–every man of the multitude spoken of in the 5th verse: "devout men out of every nation under heaven", –"every man heard them speak IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE." And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, "Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?" not only Galilaeans, but illiterate fishermen, who knew no tongue but their native dialect– "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Painphylia, in Egypt, and in parts of Lybia about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, WE DO HEAR THEM SPEAK IN OUR TONGUES the wonderful works of God." Therefore this speaking with tongues in the apostolic days was no matter of gibberish; it is no matter of what is understood in our day by "unknown tongues": the tongues spoken in those days were "known"; they were the spoken languages of mankind. And therefore the question to be answered is, how came illiterate men, without previous instruction, to be able in a moment to speak the current languages of mankind? Paul says, "I thank my God that I speak with tongues more than ye all", yet he counts it as a matter of little importance, which shows how real an experience it was in the apostolic day; for men don’t talk this way about a thing that is not happening. If it was real, it was miraculous; and if miraculous, we have another evidence of the truth of Paul’s testimony of Christ’s resurrection: for these miracles were expressly declared to be God’s confirmation of the testimony of the apostles. Then beside the speaking with tongues, we have other miracles. In Acts 19:11 we read: "And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them". Again, Acts 16:25: "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God"; this is when they were made prisoners for teaching the word of God, "and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bonds were loosed." In Acts 13:9-12, you have the account where Paul struck with blindness a man who was opposing him before the Roman deputy. In Acts 14:8-10, you have a case where he cured a man who was crippled from his infancy, in consequence of which the people of the city wanted to do him and his companions the honours supposed to be due to the gods, which they declined, saying that the works done were not their works, but done by God through them in attestation of the fact that His Son was risen and was offered to all men for faith, that they might obtain forgiveness of sins and a title to another and a glorious life, which Christ is to develop upon the earth at his second coming.